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Police warn of chimney scam, look at options

Sunderland Police Chief Jeffrey Gilbert said his department is working with the District Attorney’s Office to find a way to respond to what police allege is an ongoing chimney cleaning scam throughout the county.

Gilbert said he is waiting for clarification of whether larceny by false pretenses can be used as a charge but wants to warn area residents to beware of chimney sweep solicitations.

“We just want to let people know that they’re still in the area and that they’re still scamming people and to be aware of it, whether it’s a phone call saying ‘Hey we’ll clean your chimney’ or them showing up,” Gilbert said.

The DA’s office did not elaborate on the police concerns.

“Although we have been in contact with the Sunderland Police Department regarding this issue, we cannot comment on the existence or status of any potential criminal investigation,” First Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne said in a statement through his office.

Gilbert said an unknown number of people are involved, often traveling in pairs in white panel vans with New York plates.

The alleged scammers either show up at homes or call ahead, in either case offering a chimney cleaning, and once they arrive find bogus problems with the chimney or furnace, charging up to $2,000 by the time they leave, according to Gilbert.

Gilbert said the work is either shoddy or not done, the workers are not licensed contractors and go by a number of company names.

Gilbert said an Ashfield resident recently accepted an offer for a $72 chimney cleaning, the cleaners said they found issues with the furnace and ended up charging her $1,700. The woman paid with a check but canceled it.

The Ashfield Police Department has already warned of a similar operation and both the Greenfield and Montague police logs have shown calls from residents reporting concern over chimney cleaning solicitations.

Ashfield Police Chief Patrick Droney alleged a resident was scammed by a company calling itself Supreme Maintenance, and said the service has also gone by other names including All Care Chimney, World Class Chimney and Empire Chimney.

Buckland Police Chief James T. Hicks said he knew of six solicitations in his town, all to residents over 50, with one resident accepting the offer. Hicks said that incident is still under investigation, but money was not taken and officers subsequently spoke with the workers involved. “We had a nice chat with them and they left the area,” Hicks said. Hicks said the bill for work showed Empire in the company name and listed a Hadley address, but all the phone solicitations and the phone number on the bill were for a Supreme Chimney.

Websites exist for an Empire Chimney Corp. and a Supreme Chimney Corp., both with identical company descriptions but different addresses and phone numbers.

Empire lists an office in West Springfield and a garage in Cambridge, Supreme lists offices at a different West Springfield address and New York, N.Y. The Empire Chimney number is not in service. A message left at the Supreme Chimney number was not returned in time for publication.

Gilbert advised residents call their local police department if they are contacted and take a plate number if they can do so safely. He warned paying by check and canceling is not always effective as a victim outside the county had reported the check was deposited within half an hour.

Montague police stopped a white panel van Monday registered to an Empire Chimney Corp. of New York and arrested the driver for an unrelated infraction.

According to the police report filed with the Franklin County District Court, police stopped the van as it was leaving Rau’s Sunoco Service gas station on Turners Falls Road after a sheriff’s deputy reported the vehicle as matching an alert issued by the Sunderland Police Department in relation to the alleged scams.

Patrolman Michael Sevene wrote the vehicle was actively registered to Empire Chimney Corp. but the driver’s license number came back as suspended in New York and he was arrested.

Joseph C. Giannino, 26, of Medford, N.Y., was arrested and charged with unlicensed operation.

Greenfield District Court Judge Laurie Macleod decriminalized the offense and fined Giannino $100 at his Tuesday arraignment, with his earlier $100 bail applied to the fine, and he was released.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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